As some of the world's best older golfers descend this week on the Omaha Country Club, a different sort of foursome has been puttering its way through another arena: the courthouse.
Four lawsuits have been filed in the past two years in Douglas County District Court over errant golf balls, flying drivers, the location of tee boxes, even the dislocation of the ankle of a tipsy golf-cart rider. Observers say this may be the most golf-related litigation in Douglas County since lawyers started holding court on the fairway.
Of course, Omaha's legal and golfing communities have always been as tight as hand in golf glove. The Douglas County Courthouse has been home to depositions on pin positions, litigation over golf-cart crashes and one blockbuster case over a fleeting $1 million hole-in-one.
In short, some of Omaha's most-talked-about golf stories have been made not on hilly fairways but in legal byways.
We take a look at the four recent cases and a look back at the one historical ace in the history of Nebraska courts.
Bob Gunia thought he had a hole-in-won.
Gunia recorded the first ace in the history of Shadow Lake Golf Course during a YMCA fundraising tournament. And he did it on a hole that had a banner that read: “Hole-In-One on Hole No. 8 Wins! $1,000,000, 40-year annuity.”
So when he grooved his 7 iron and the ball rolled into the cup, Gunia thought he was a millionaire.
Slight problem: Organizers said they had mistakenly placed the tee-box markers too close to the pin, and the insurance company wouldn't pay out the prize because the tee shot wasn't long enough.
Sensing the contest rules were being altered so the prize wouldn't have to be awarded, Gunia filed a lawsuit. Instead of $1 million, he went home with a $33,000 settlement that he used to purchase a used Nissan and remodel his kitchen.
Flying golf ball
So a driver hits a golf ball. What's the big deal? This driver was behind the wheel of a car, traveling on 72nd Street last summer when a wayward golf ball smashed into her front fender.
Now the motorist, Kendra Miller, has filed a lawsuit, claiming that the City of Omaha should pay $692 for the damage to her car and prevent other errant golf balls from leaving the public Benson Park Golf Course off Ames Avenue.
“Prior to (that day), I had no idea there was a risk of being hit by a golf ball while traveling in a car on 72nd Street,” Miller said in a sworn affidavit.
Assistant City Attorney Rosemarie Lee, meanwhile, has pointed out that the city can't build a biodome over the Benson course.
“Neither the city nor the owner of any private golf course has any duty to provide a fence around its golf course which will deflect miss-hit golf balls from leaving the golf course,” Lee wrote. “Such a fence would have to be over 100 feet in height and length.”
In February, an Omaha woman sued the Mid-America Center and organizers of the Omaha Golf Expo over a 2009 incident.
Brenda Blair says she was working at a booth for the youth program she regularly volunteered at, Hogan's Junior Golf Heroes.
An adult golfer was testing a driver by swinging it in the next booth over. The driver indeed hit a round object. Unfortunately, it was Blair's head.
Attorney Thomas Wulff wrote that it wasn't the first time that a patron lost his grip and boomeranged a golf club into the Hogan's booth.
“An individual had in fact lost his grip on a golf club the day prior to (Blair's) injury, resulting in a near-miss where a child was almost struck.”
Something the lawsuit doesn't mention: whether sales of the driver, the Slick-Grip HeadHunter 2000, sharply plummeted after those incidents.
Like the senior golfers this week, this one may go a full four rounds.
A homeowners association in the Fire Ridge development of west Omaha filed a lawsuit against a resident over the mini-golf course and manland he had installed on his property.
Eric Marsh says he invested between $300,000 and $400,000 on his playground, complete with an infinity edge pool, artificial-turf putting green and tee boxes.
The project near 195th and Jackson Streets raised some neighbors' eyebrows. Fire Ridge asked a judge to determine whether Marsh violated neighborhood covenants.
Marsh, meanwhile, sued an association member, saying he felt threatened when former board member Julie Tartaglia joked in an email that she and other board members should “hit (golf) balls all at once into his pool for no less than the time it takes to have 100 go in and clog the filter system that I am sure cost more than most vehicles. Game on buddy!”
Though Marsh's lawsuit is over — a judge declined to issue a protection order against Tartaglia — the neighborhood's lawsuit against Marsh is just getting teed up. No trial date has been set.
In November, a young Omaha woman took Cox Classic tournament organizers to trial after she drunkenly rode on a golf cart and was thrown from it — severely injuring her ankle.
At trial, the woman admitted to paying more attention to her vodka shots than the golfers' shots.
And witnesses described how she did a pageant wave after she wound up on her tush with her toes pointed the wrong direction.
Jurors deliberated just one hour before deciding that the accident was just that — an accident.
In turn, the woman went home without a giant cardboard check.